In the brief time we’ve got to know Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, there’s one thing about him that is indisputable — he is single-mindedly ambitious and totally focused on winning elections.

Perhaps it was the dramatic fall of his former boss, Queensland Premier Wayne Goss, 13 years ago, which concentrated his mind on winning office and staying there. Certainly it informs everything he says and does.

His focus is now on winning the next federal election. He knows the political environment is volatile but he also knows it will be much worse in 12 months’ time.

That is why an early election is a certainty. He needs a major piece of legislation to be knocked over twice by the Senate over a three-month period to trigger a double dissolution election.

At a pinch it could be at the end of this year; if not it will be early next year. Of course, he doesn’t have to run until January 2011, but that would coincide with the NSW state election which is scheduled for 26 March and he doesn’t want that.

Post-budget Sydney media stories that Rudd is waging a “civil war” against NSW Premier Nathan Rees and that the two are at “loggerheads” are utter nonsense.

The Coalition and the anti-Rees fifth column in the Labor Party are arguing that Budget funding for NSW was disproportionately lower than other States, ipso facto, Rudd is deliberately penalizing Rees whom he doesn’t like.

The political reality is that Rudd won half-a-dozen seats from the Coalition at the November 2007 election and he wants to keep all of them. He knows that he cannot hold The Lodge if he can’t win a majority of seats in NSW.

Treasury, Infrastructure Australia and Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner knocked back big items on the Rees Government’s wish list because their feasibility and viability didn’t stack up and not because of any personal animus towards Rees.

NSW Nationals Leader Andrew Stoner was emblazoned all over the TV and radio news bulletins attacking the Budget’s allocations to NSW but he made no mention of the colossal $618 million earmarked for the Kempsey bypass on the Pacific Highway — which is slap bang in Stoner’s own electorate of Oxley.

Can we now expect Stoner to be telling his Federal colleagues to oppose the Kempsey project? I don’t think so.

For his part, Rees is not about to wage war on Rudd either. He saw the power of Rudd’s intervention in the Queensland election in March which gave Premier Anna Bligh the political credibility and economic ballast she desperately needed.

Rees will be needing some of that same federal support in March 2011 if he is to squeak miraculously over the line.

Rees’s political predicament is extraordinary. He has the Sydney media — News Ltd, Fairfax and commercial radio — all baying like bloodhounds for regime change. Perversely, the more they bay the stronger Rees is starting to perform in the opinion polls. What does that tell you about the idiocy and the growing irrelevance of the mainstream media in Sydney?

At the same time, the factional powerbrokers have two replacements — Deputy Premier Carmel Tebbutt and Rockdale MP Frank Sartor — sitting on the reserve bench waiting to come on as impact players if needed in the final quarter. Instability in the political system is now reflecting the instability in the economic system.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey